Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jim Pickard

First George Osborne got it in the neck from his constituents because HS2 was set to pass through Tatton, as we revealed on Saturday.

Now the chancellor is getting criticised for the opposite reason – that the controversial route will not pass through the most verdant areas of the north-west constituency.

The Daily Mail reports today that Tory-run Cheshire East council issued a press release yesterday suggesting the chancellor had kept the line from Tatton’s “Golden Triangle” of Prestbury, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge.

“Your MPs George Osborne, Edward Timpson and I (council leader Michael Jones) have fought hard to keep the line away from Knutsford and Tatton, which we have been successful in achieving”, said the release.

Critics, in the words, of the Mail, “accused ministers of double standards Read more

Kiran Stacey

Today’s exchanges at PMQs sounded fairly hackneyed and well-worn. Ed Miliband chose to ask about the economy, and the usual argument took place – the Labour leader accused the coalition of stifling growth, the prime minister said it was all Labour’s fault for borrowing too much.

But Miliband did give one revealing answer during the debate. The Labour leader pointed out:

[Cameron] is borrowing £212bn more than he promised.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

We reported this morning that Tory MPs are trying to make sure that the MoD doesn’t suffer further cuts at this year’s spending review. Mark Pritchard, a Tory backbencher, summed up the feeling of many of his colleagues when he told us:

Colleagues have, to date, reluctantly backed reductions in the MoD budget. However, any additional cuts to the defence, beyond those already agreed, will create a substantial political backlash. In short, the MoD budget has been cut enough, and the Treasury needs to look elsewhere for savings.

Pritchard and his colleagues should be on safe ground: the prime minister himself said that the defence settlement signed in 2010 would require “year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015”. Read more

Jim Pickard

Yes, you read that headline right.

For all the understandable interest in Tory opposition – including Tatton councillors in Saturday’s FT – the overwhelming impression from the green benches yesterday was one of support for the controversial high-speed rail line. Here is the official account in Hansard.

It’s less interesting for journalists like myself, who thrive on controversy. The idea of a wave of Tory MPs kicking the project – when it also faces mass legal actions – is an enticing one.

But an honest appraisal of Monday’s debate would support the suggestion by Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary, of a cross-party consensus.

So on the “no” ranks were Cheryl Gillan, Andrew Bridgen (whose house is 100 ft from the route), Michael Fabricant (“it blights the environment, homes and lives”) and Andrea Leadsom.

None of these were a surprise. (Interestingly, none of the anti’s were returning Read more

The UK government has revealed the planned route of the second stage of the proposed high speed rail link from London to the north of England. Lex’s Stuart Kirk and Oliver Ralph discuss who’ll invest in a project where any returns would be a long way off.

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg. Getty Images

The Tories are having great fun mocking Nick Clegg’s opposition to an EU referendum, pointing out that the Lib Dems went into the last election promising a referendum of their own. The Lib Dems in turn, point out that the wording of their manifesto actually mirrors what the coalition has put into law, namely that there should be:

an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU

But the Lib Dems made a huge issue of it, even walking out of the Commons in 2008 when speaker Michael Martin refused to let the party bring an amendment calling for a referendum. As the guardian’s Nick Watt points out, Nick Clegg said at the time: Read more

Jim Pickard

The blacklisting story, which emerged into the public eye in a slow trickle, is starting to turn into a torrent, with coverage in the last 24 hours on the Today programme, Channel 4 and The Times.

And this afternoon there was a decent turnout in the Commons as MPs debated the issue – and whether there is cause for a public investigation.

We wrote back in October that the UK building industry could face compensation claims running to hundreds of millions after a legal battle was launched by workers who say they were in effect barred from construction sites by a blacklist. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Two big questions remained after David Cameron’s landmark speech on Britain’s role in Europe this morning: would it do enough to please his eurosceptic backbenchers, and how would Ed Miliband respond?

We got the answer to both at PMQs. We know now that for the moment, Cameron has got his party off his back, and that Labour are not about to promise a referendum of their own.

The atmosphere in the Commons was electric as the leaders took their places. The Tory benches were packed with grinning faces – this looked like being a good day for Cameron, and so it proved. He even got a cheer for starting his first answer by saying: Read more

Jim Pickard

New freedoms for developers to turn office blocks into flats will expire in two years under a compromise after a long-running battle by Vince Cable against the proposals.

I revealed yesterday that the government was set to make it easier for companies to convert offices into residential without seeking planning permission.

But it turns out that the business secretary has also carved out other exemptions to the rules – which are likely to be announced later this week- so that they will not apply to shops, hotels or industrial parks.

Meanwhile any council will be free to appeal against conversions where they are able to make an “exceptional case” that the change would be bad for employment in their area.

Mr Cable had fought the proposals on the basis that they could damage employment while Read more

Jim Pickard

One big question which hangs like a fog around Labour is what the party would do with the benefits bill if it was in power.

Ed Miliband’s argument is that if he was prime minister, the social security tab would not have risen so sharply in the past few years because there would be less unemployment. Clearly that is not a hypothesis that can be tested. Read more

Kiran Stacey

 

Frans Timmermans, Dutch foreign minister

Frans Timmermans, Dutch foreign minister

I’m not sure if anyone in Downing Street is fluent in Dutch, but if they are, they may want to watch the edition of Nieuwsuur (their equivalent of Newsnight) broadcast earlier this week.

Cameron is off to the Netherlands tomorrow to make his great make-or-break speech on Europe, where he’s expected to announce a renegotiation of powers followed by a referendum in the next parliament. He has chosen to do it there because he regards prime minister Mark Rutte as one of his great allies in the cause of reforming Brussels. Read more

For Tony Blair, they were the “forces of conservatism”. For Margaret Thatcher they were an inefficient bureaucracy that needed to be scaled back. British civil servants have been described as the envy of the world but to many ministers they are little more than a block on their most coveted policy ambitions.

Yes, Prime Minister, the sitcom that personified the devious and obstructive mandarin in the character of Sir Humphrey Appleby, returned to British television this week after a 15-year gap. And, for many ministers, the world it depicts, in which officials prevent them from carrying out manifesto promises and protect the status quo at all costs, is as true today as it was in the sitcom’s 1980s heyday.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Is this a first? An email has just popped into a colleague’s inbox stating:

The Joint Committee on the draft Care and Support Bill, chaired by Paul Burstow MP, is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny into the draft Bill and the policies it seeks to implement. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Douglas Alexander was touring television studios this morning explaining why he thought holding a referendum on Britain’s EU membership was a bad idea. After months of toying with the idea of copying the Tories in promising an in/out referendum in the next parliament, Labour seems to have finally decided that would be a bad idea.

This uncharacteristic decisiveness gave Ed Miliband a platform from which to attack David Cameron in today’s PMQs, and the Labour leader made the most of it. His first question was meant to embarrass the PM and amuse his own party, and it worked: Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron with Herman van Rompuy

David Cameron with Herman van Rompuy

As Britain trundles towards a possible referendum on EU membership, people are beginning to ask what kind of result it might throw up.

David Cameron is gambling that if he manages to renegotiate some powers away from Brussels, voters will prefer this new settlement to not being in the union at all. And if past experience is to be believed, he has reason to be optimistic: when asked to assent to a plan from Brussels, voters across Europe tend to answer yes.

The list below of all the European plebiscites that have taken place in the union’s history shows that voters have only said no to the EU nine times out of the 36 referendums that have been held. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Fraser Nelson writes an interesting column in the Telegraph today arguing that David Cameron has returned to Downing Street a changed man in 2013 with a renewed desire to make “Cameronism” mean something. But Nelson also notes that the Tory leader’s big vision all too often gets lost in policy u-turns and conflicting messages.

It is a trait that is increasingly vexing his backbenchers, fed up of defending contradictory messages emanating from the centre with their local associations. This week those rumblings rose to the surface when his parliamentary party used a meeting on the 2015 election strategy to let off steam about his very public backing of gay marriageRead more

Kiran Stacey

Sir Jeremy Heywood

Sir Jeremy Heywood

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the government’s chief civil servant, was up in front of MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee this morning, talking about the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” affair.

Heywood had been asked by the prime minister to look into the email trail behind the accusations that Mitchell had called a police officer a “pleb” – in particular at the testimony from someone purporting to be a member of the public who had witnessed the incident.

When reviewing these emails, Heywood looked at the CCTV footage from nearby cameras. These seemed to suggest Mitchell had not got angry with the officer in question, although was inconclusive whether he said the word “pleb” (he has always maintained he did not). Read more

Jim Pickard

Phillip GordonWhen I traipsed over to the Washington embassy in Mayfair yesterday I expected a run-of-the-mill press conference.

Instead this was a major moment; when the Obama administration made clear in public its growing concerns about the prospect of a UK exit from the European Union – and even with the idea of a referendum. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron and his party criticised for 'shirkers vs workers' rhetoric. Getty Images

MPs on all sides of the Commons have piled into the Tories – and particularly George Osborne – over the party’s developing narrative of “shirkers vs workers” (or if you like “skivers vs strivers”).

Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP, was one of the first from her side to speak out against the kind of image seen in one of her party’s latest campaigns, which depicts an unemployed person slumped on a sofa, apparently unwilling to work. She told the Commons: Read more

Kiran Stacey

North Sea oil - how much of a loss will this be?Amid all the debate about the economic viability of an independent Scotland, one element of the debate has been left behind, namely what Scottish independence would mean for the rest of the UK.

Martin Beck of Capital Economics has sought to remedy that today, putting out a 12-page briefing note on whether the rest of the UK would suffer if Scotland went it alone. Many of the conclusions are speculative: an awful lot depends on what the independence settlement looks like and what happens to the economy after 2014. But there are some interesting points definitely worth pulling out: Read more